Authors: Heather Long
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #War, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Military, #One Hour (33-43 Pages), #Always a Marine - Book 8
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
The Two and the Proud
Copyright © 2013 by Heather Long
Cover art by Mina Carter
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work, in whole or in part, in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.
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Also by Heather Long
Always a Marine Books
Once Her Man, Always Her Man
Retreat Hell! She Just Got Here
Tell it to the Marine
Proud to Serve Her
No Regrets, No Surrender
The Marine Cowboy
The Two and the Proud
A Marine and A Gentleman
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
The Two and the Proud
A 1Night Stand Story
Always a Marine - Book 8
Rain poured in great sheets as thunder rumbled and the occasional flash of lightning burnt his retinas. Rowdy checked the GPS for the third time when he swung into the carport outside the hotel. The Castillo Washington was a five-star luxury hotel parked squarely in downtown D.C. Fifteen minutes behind schedule; he was still thirty minutes early for his date. He preferred early to late. Handing his keys to the valet along with a tip, he took the claim ticket.
The interior of the hotel appeared as luxurious as all the advertisements boasted. Parquet floors, vaulted ceilings, crystal chandeliers, and a dozen intimately arranged seating areas. Shops lined one wall, offering designer clothes, shoes, purses, and souvenirs for hotel guests. Signs pointed in the direction of the front desk and the hotel’s various lounges.
Rowdy bypassed all of them and took a seat on a comfortable sofa outside the dark, moody
. It was after happy hour, but the business crowd inside remained thick.
A waitress scooted over to him. “What can I get for you?”
He blew out a breath. He’d debated this on the drive over. He enjoyed a good glass of wine, having grown up drinking his family’s personal vintage. But years in the Corps turned him on to various types of beer—and he enjoyed those even more. “Sam Adams. Bottle.” He added the last before she asked.
“Of course.” She set a napkin down on the table next to him and strode off, her hips swaying despite the briskness of her pace. Unbuttoning his jacket, he pulled out his phone, thumbing it over to the email box. He checked his watch and nodded. Still early, which gave him time to scan the crowd and observe his date as she arrived.
The waitress returned with his beer, and he gave her a credit card to open a tab. He was on his second swallow when a woman in a dark blue dress sashayed in. She surveyed the lobby, and the tables around him. For the briefest of moments, their gazes collided, but she moved on and waved at someone behind him. He washed back his amusement with another drink.
A trickle of female arrivals streamed past—they glanced at him or gave him a flirtatious smile but continued on to other destinations and plans. At five minutes past the appointed date time, annoyance crept in. Fifteen minutes passed and annoyance settled in his gut along with his beer.
He checked his phone for other messages—still nothing. The tables around him filled. But he wasn’t the only one sitting alone. Two tables over, a devastating redhead with relaxed posture studied the crowd. Dressed in a pair of jeans, suit jacket, and white button down shirt, she faded into the setting—which made no damn sense. She was one hell of a looker. Rowdy’s eyes narrowed—she wasn’t watching the crowd.
She stared at him.
The corners of her mouth curved into a mysterious smile and she saluted him with her beer.
He nodded and glanced down at his phone when it vibrated.
The mail flag signaled and he thumbed it open.
Feel free to join me
His eyebrows climbed. It was a forwarded message—from the 1Night Stand service.
Slanting another look at the redhead, he lifted his eyebrows and she grinned. Intrigued, he grabbed his bottle and walked over to the sofa she claimed. “Good evening.”
“Good evening.” Amusement twisted between the words. She stood and stretched out her hand. “And let me begin this introduction with an apology…Kim Wakefield.”
“Hello, Kim Wakefield. Rowdy Easton.”
Her firm grip was warm, soft, and perfunctory. A lot like the woman herself. Despite her attempt to cover up her femininity, she only emphasized it. Of course, maybe she hadn’t attempted to disguise it. Women didn’t have to wear dresses on dates.
“You look a little confused.” She held his hand longer than was necessary, but he didn’t mind.
“Curious. Not confused.”
She released her grip and disappointment surged through him. A second curiosity, but he set it aside for the time being. She motioned to the sofa next to her, and he waited for her to sit before taking the center cushion. It put him right in her space—and what an alluring space it was.
“What’s got you curious?” She leaned back, crossing one leg over the other. She wore boots, laced tight, low heeled, and sensible. He knew expensive shoes and he knew combat boots—hers looked like a combination of the two.
“You.” He studied her face. Surprisingly, she didn’t have green eyes so traditionally associated with red hair. Instead, her eyes were almost the color of amber. Under the low overhead lighting, they gleamed like polished gemstones.
“Me?” She lifted her brows.
“Oh, yeah. You.” The waitress paused next to them and he held up two fingers. “Another Sam Adams and whatever the lady is having.”
“Corona Extra, two limes please,” Kim supplied and gave an amused snort after the waitress walked away. “I am not her favorite person.”
“Why is that?”
Did she know the waitress personally
? He glanced briefly in the other woman’s direction.
“She stared at you the whole time and you didn’t look away from me. Thank you, by the way. It’s a very nice compliment.” Kim moved with the bare minimum of excess. Her relaxed expression couldn’t hide the sharp assessment in her eyes or the air of expectancy wrapped around her.
“You’re welcome.” He linked his fingers together. The date arrangements they’d agreed on said drinks first. They could take their conversation to their reserved room after. Cocktails and conversation seemed a good way to kick off the night. So where did the sudden impatience curling through his gut come from?
“You still look…what was the word you used? Curious?” The low, smoky quality to her voice teased the hell out of him. But then so did her mysterious amusement.
“Definitely curious.” The waitress returned with their fresh beer bottles, served them, and he waited for her to leave before continuing. “Why does a woman like you need a service like this?”
“It’s not about need.” She met his question with complete candor. “It’s about want. We don’t really live in a society where you can walk up to someone and say, ‘nice shoes, want to fuck?’”
He damn near choked on his beer. Coughing once, he slid a sideways look at her. The amusement in her expression increased. “No?”
“Nope.” She leaned forward and looked at his shoes pointedly. “By the way, nice shoes.”
Kim Wakefield was an enigma—but damn, what a sexy one. He lifted his bottle, and they clinked bottlenecks in salute. “I like yours, too.”
It was her turn to chuckle and the sound rippled over him, a sensuous caress like nails stroking his spine. He took a long pull of the drink and settled back against the sofa. “So what do you do?”
“The boring work conversation. Hmm. Not the best opening play.” She winked and took a long drink.
“Hard to top the shoes,” he countered.
“True. But you could at least try….”
Is she challenging me
. “Does the rug match the drapes?” Embarrassment pricked him, but he ignored it and tossed the gauntlet down brazenly. She threw her head back and laughed again, the rich sound applauding his effort, but he didn’t count it a success until her amused amber gaze met his again.
“I could answer—but I get the sense you’re the kind of man who likes to fact check.”
Bold. Brassy. Brilliant
He liked her.
“Yes, ma’am. I do.”
“Good, I prefer a man willing to work for what he wants.” She rolled her tongue over her lower lip. “Moment of truth time.”
“Oh?” After their rather bawdy, albeit bizarre, conversation—she wanted truth?
“I work for NCIS. Is that going to be a problem for you?”
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service. She was a cop.
His whole body revved.
Rowdy’s nostrils flared and his pupils dilated. His visible, physical reaction to where she worked and what she did for a living zinged her like a shock of static electricity. The clenched fist in her gut relaxed. Too often when men found what she did, they retreated or worse, they looked patronizing. The Marine sergeant did neither. He leaned closer.
“How long?” Even better, he didn’t ask the typical follow-up question.
“A few years. I got friendly with the agent onboard during my float on the Tortuga.” She cradled her beer bottle in her hands, twisting it back and forth. The cold moisture cooled the sudden warmth in her palms.
“No way you were a sailor.” The corners of his mouth curved.
“Hell, no. We stole the eagle from the Air Force, the anchor from the Navy, and the rope from the Army.” She lifted her eyebrows and waited. He didn’t need long.
“On the seventh day when God rested, we took the perimeter and stole the globe and we’ve been running the show ever since.” Their bottles clinked together in a toast. “Fighters by day….”
“Lovers by night. Drunkards by choice.” She finished it, joining him in the final act of the refrain. “And a United States Marine by an act of God.”
They tipped their bottles back and drained them before setting them aside. Her face almost ached from the smile, but she was right. All the background info she dug through on the 1Night Stand service and the security clearance request she filed were worth it. They hadn’t made it out of the lounge and for the first time in months, she relaxed.
“Seriously, why NCIS?”
“Counterterrorism, investigation, keeping the Navy and the Marines safe here and abroad—it worked for me.” She licked her lips. “I like being a Marine. I liked serving, but I wanted to do more, too. The funny thing was, the agent afloat was this real player. He was forever taking women out when we were in port and he knew even more…but he never hit on us.”
“’Cause you’d probably have hit him back.” Rowdy’s astute summation pegged it.
“Probably.” She shrugged. “Still, he gave me an opportunity. A couple of years later when I cycled out, I gave him a call. He hooked me up and I got a job.”